Cast your net wider to boost recruitment

03 April 2008
Cast your net wider to boost recruitment

Hospitality companies can pick up some great new recruits if they are prepared to cast their net across other industry sectors. Ross Bentley reports

Vicky Williams says that the food service business has diversified in recent years.

As a result, she says, in her role as resourcing and development director for Compass Group, she has had to look beyond the traditional pools of hospitality talent to find the right people to recruit.

"We are now involved in different types of contract catering," she says. "In some cases, our offer has become more retailed-orientated - for example, we may offer a branded coffee or deli outlet - so we are looking to recruit more people with retail experience."

And when it comes to taking on people for customer-facing roles, what matters most, according to Williams, is not whether potential employees have experience of working in catering, but whether they have the right attitude.

She says: "We look for people with excellent customer service skills and develop their catering skills. That's far easier than doing it the other way round."

And casting the recruitment net far and wide is not reserved for front-line roles. In recent years Compass has shown a willingness to go outside the hospitality sector to find the right people for senior positions.

For example, UK and Ireland managing director Ian El-Mokadem was head of OneTel, Centrica's telecommunications arm, before he joined Compass in May 2006 Graham Sims, managing director of Compass's business and industry division, joined the company last year from a retail position with oil giant BP and the managing director of Compass's fine-dining arm, Restaurant Associates, Jason Leek, was previously a lawyer at law firm Freshfields.

Williams says: "When looking for people to run big bits of the business, our prime concern is to find someone with suitable leadership and business skills, rather than specific knowledge of the contract catering industry.

"If we have our structures right, there will be people down the line who know the catering business and who can advise the people coming in from outside."

However, according to Lesley Reynolds, chief executive of Portfolio International, a firm that specialises in recruiting managerial staff for the hospitality sector, looking beyond the boundaries of the sector is not a new trend.

She says: "I've been in the industry for over 20 years and we have always looked to draw people in from other sectors. There should be no barriers for people in roles such as marketing, sales, property development and acquisition, IT and HR."

For Reynolds, this strategy has a number of advantages.

First, it means that the recruiting company has a far wider pool of talent and potential skills to choose from - so it is more likely to get someone with the right abilities for the position it hopes to fill.

Second, people coming from another sector are more likely to bring fresh, innovative ideas with them. While the hospitality industry has made huge strides in the way it develops it own people, says Reynolds, it is also important to have an injection of alternative thinking to rejuvenate the company and help instill alternative practices and efficiencies.

"In some cases," she says, "someone who can think outside the box is worth their weight in gold."

Reynolds gives one example of a former army general who she recruited as vice-president of membership marketing at a top golf club. She says: "He was hugely successful, because his communications, connections and social skills were second to none."

Hospitality companies that take on new employees from outside must, however, be ready to make accommodations for their new recruits and support them as they acclimatise to a new industry.

Giving people adequate inductions and time out in the business to come to terms with their new environment is important, says Reynolds. So, too, is avoiding throwing too much hospitality jargon at them until they are up to speed.

Reynolds says that hospitality recruiters also have to work at dispelling a few myths about the sector if they are to persuade top talent from other industries to make a switch.

She says that a lot of people believe the hospitality sector to be not as well paid as most other industries. There is also a common perception that there is a faster turnover of staff compared with other industries and that, as a result, managers face extra strain.

But, by the same token, says Williams at Compass, the food industry is increasingly attractive to many people working in other sectors, with the popularity of a growing number of celebrity chefs doing much to induce people of all age groups and levels to consider a jump into hospitality.

On the other hand, though, Williams warns that there is an element of risk involved with recruiting outside hospitality. She says that people unaccustomed to the culture of the industry might get a shock when they discover just how hard working in the sector can be. "The long hours, pressure and hard work, as well as high staff turnover, may not be for everyone," she cautions, "and we have to ensure people are ready for this during the selection process."

This preparation of recruits from outside the industry is something that pub company Charles Wells has spent a lot of time refining.

With properties mainly in the Midlands and Thames Valley, the brewer has an expanding estate that currently totals 200 pubs. Eighteen months ago it made the decision to broaden its search for potential tenants outside the usual parameters.

Head of recruitment Chris Nicholls says: "Traditionally, publicans have moved around the industry, but the trade has become far more complicated. The old days of people falling through the door and drinking gallons of beer have gone.

"There's a lot more legislation, and food is much larger part of the proposition. We are looking for people with sound business plans and a professional retailing approach to take over the running of our pubs."

Charles Wells's approach has been to target people from the general leisure industry, attending leisure trade shows and placing ads in leisure industry trade journals as well as in the national press. It has also been involved in launching a website,, which seeks to attract people from outside the pub sector, such as those who run franchised fast-food outlets.

Nicholls says that new recruits from outside the industry get support in the form of a comprehensive five-day induction course called Crisp - the Charles Wells Retail Induction Support Programme, held at its headquarters in Bedford. The course won a NITA training award from the British Institute of Innkeeping last year.

While new landlords have to pay to attend (£500 for a single person, £800 a couple), Nicholls says that the course sets out to give candidates a head start, and a host of tips and advice for making it in their new industry. Ongoing advice is available from the company and its retail development management team.

Nicholls adds: "We believe the most important person in the whole pub is the landlord, and it's in our interest to ensure they succeed. If they lose impetus, the pub goes down and they leave, meaning we are back to square one and have to start recruiting again."

Baker and banker behind the bar

Before opening their first pub - the Admiral Vernon in Over, Cambridgeshire - Kathy Harrow had managed a bakery in the St Neots area, while husband, Scott, had been an investment banker in the City of London for more than 20 years.

They'd always planned to set up their own business and, after making it through selection, moved into the Charles Wells pub last year.

"I thought I worked hard as an investment banker," says Scott, "but that didn't prepare me for running our own pub. We haven't altered much, as we know that some villages can find change difficult to accept. But we've added certain elements, like special events, live music, and a ceilidh for St Andrew's Day and Burns Night."

Kathy took her NCPLH through the Charles Wells training programme and also attended the Crisp programme, which she says gave her an invaluable introduction to the industry.

"The cellar management module was very informative and provided useful tips that I didn't know would be useful until we got into the pub," she says.

"It was also helpful to meet other licensees and draw from their experience or skills from another area of business."

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